Once in a Lifetime
And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
Those timeless words written by David Byrne have a special meaning to us and we are often asked, How did we get here?
It’s a tale of love and loss, a wager gone wrong, a big Brady Bunch family and a literal fire storm.
In the spring of 1986, on a trip to San Fran, I rented the cheapest car I could find and headed to the Valley for a day trip. One of my co-workers at the time told me there were two things I had to do in the Valley. One was have a sun soaked lunch on the patio at Auberge du Soleil, the other was to schedule a tasting at S. Anderson Vineyards. I happily complied as my friend, Tom, was rarely wrong and had impeccable taste. He grew up in Greenwich and summered in Kennebunkport across the street from Walker Point a.k.a. The Summer White House for Presidents 41 and 43. I was pretty impressed, as I compared golfing with a secret security detail to my marathon car trips to the beaches of North Carolina. Didn’t my parents know there was something called an airplane?
What a day it was! It started with a journey over the fog encrusted Golden Gate which turned into a warm sunny day a few miles outside the City. When we reached the S. Anderson Vineyard in Yountville, Stan met a small group of us with a picnic basket in hand, filled with champagne, chardonnay and stemware. Corks flew and we all received a generous pour. We walked the vineyards and then into magical caves where the champagne was riddled. It was a day I will never forget. I left with the thought that someday, I too, could be like Stan.
Stanley and Carol Anderson planted their first vineyard on the property in 1971 and began making wine in 1979, driven by a passion for sparkling wine. Stanley died in 1994, and as sales of California sparkling wine stagnated, the family increasingly focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which thrive in the Stags Leap District. In 2002, the Anderson Family sold the Stags Leap property to Cliff Lede.
“Looking good Billy Ray!” Fast forward to the spring of 2007, yeah a lot of time passed, but I was busy starting a family and putting in the hours as banker at JP Morgan. I was heavily enrolled in the DIY correspondent wine tasting school. I studied every night and had graduated from whites to reds and discovered Bourdeaux! After a long night of cramming for an exam, a group of us decided to make our own red wine fashioned after the sumptuous Bourdeaux’s of Marguax. We bought five tons of grapes (Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc) from the Valentine Vineyard in St Helana, rented a U-Haul trailer and brought them to a “friend’s”, winery called The Cook Family Winery. What the worst thing that could happen? It was fun and we made a lot of mistakes, but in the end, the wine was pretty good. When it came time to name our wine, we were knee deep in the great recession and settled on Billy Ray’s Recession Red. Why Billy Ray, Eddie Murphy played the role of Billy Ray Valentine in Trading Places!
We learned a lot about winemaking with Billy, but more importantly we learned there was a ton we didn’t know. Time to bring in a professional. In 2009, we went to the Valley to meet with folks that could help and stumbled into Chris Carpenter from Cardinale in St. Helena. He was actually interested in helping us and after spending an afternoon over a few bottles of Cardinale, he suggested we get in touch with his friend Tim Milos. Tim fit the bill. He is a high-end consultant winemaker without a huge ego. You can read his bio in our About Us section of the website, but trust me, he is the real deal. Guess where he worked before becoming a consultant winemaker? S. Anderson! Maybe I could be like Stan!
We described to Tim the type of cab we wanted to produce (earthy, leather with hints of currant), he suggested we source grapes from the Setty Vineyard at the top of Atlas Peak. Setty is managed by two octogenarian ladies who produce some of the best mountain fruit in the Valley. In early 2010, we contracted to purchased five tons of Setty’s mountain fruit. We were making real strides, then person tragedy hit me right in the gut. My wife, Sally, died of breast cancer. With the help of many, I carried on, but it was Tim on the wheel that entire year.
We liked what we saw and tasted out of Setty and have continued to harvest five tons of grapes from the same row of vines every year. Our soon to be released 2014 received a 93 rating from the Wine Enthusiast (mountain fruit can be very tannic and tight which is only reconciled with age, so we wait until the wine is approachable to release). Although it’s only a number there is a lot personal satisfaction for me in getting a wine rated. I guess it’s validation that people like the wine we are making.
In the beginning of 2011, one of my investors (I graduated from being a banker to an asset manager and founded a small fixed income boutique called Silvermine Capital with a group of co-workers from Trust Company of the West) had a friend who suddenly lost her husband from a pulmonary embolism. Over a few bottles of Bookmark, Tamara and I hit it off and we married the following summer. Together we have four children and our lives are filled love, laughter and occasional tears.
The next step in our wine education was a big one, did we actually want to buy and operate a working vineyard? It’s a big commitment and we spent several years educating ourselves through many trips from Connecticut to the Valley. We found an interesting prospect in Calistoga which turned out to be a dud, but there was a property nearby that was available and it turned out to be a winner. At long last, I was going to be like Stan! Tamara went out for a run one sunny afternoon in Calistoga and came back white as a ghost. She had a near miss with a driver who had visited a few too many tasting rooms. The conversation evolved into a discussion and then a wager over the placement of a stop sign. The Wager was the vineyard and of course, as many husbands can appreciate, I was wrong! The vineyard is now known as Tamara’s Vineyard and The Wager is the wine we produce. Not so fast Stevie Boy! The 2016 vintage is showing promise when we have done barrel tastings with Tim. Stay tuned!
Burning Down the House
Tamara and I had settled nicely into our bi-costal residency and had fallen into a deep love with the quaint town of Calistoga. The California lifestyle suited us, if I could just remember my grocery bags on my daily Cal-Mart run! We awoke on the morning of October 8th 2017 to a frantic voicemail from one of our neighbors that the “vineyards are on fire”. The news cycle was slow and we spent the day wondering the fate our beloved vineyard. We received word later in the day that our home was totally destroyed. The good news was that no one on our property was injured and what we lost was only personal possessions. In the days following the fire, we travelled to Tamara’s Vineyard and witnessed what only can be described as catastrophic. A smell of sadness permeated the air, trees stood with no bark, and embers still flickered sporadically. One of the most amazing sites was to see the fire burn right up to the vineyards and stop. The moisture in the vines seemed to act a retardant to the fires.
The Tubbs fire, as it is known, moved from our vineyard over the ridge into Sonoma County and then devastated Santa Rosa. It burned for 22 days and took the lives of 43 souls. Hot spots persisted as the fire burned underground using the roots of trees as fuel. We had one of those hot spots in a creek bed. A group of three firefighters came and extinguished the embers. We offered them a cold beer, which they declined. They worked 24 hour shifts with no end in sight. Hero is the only word that comes to mind to describe their work and dedication. I will never forget the hundreds of signs posted on the highway from San Fran and all over the towns from Napa and Sonoma thanking these heroes.
Everyone loves and Underdog! Coincidentally, Tamara and I are both lefty’s which really makes us love the Underdog! About 1 in 10 of the world’s population are lefty’s. So when we wanted to develop a moderately priced white, it had to be Underdog. We don’t make Underdog every year, it’s more of an opportunistic offering. In Napa and Sonoma many of the large wine houses have specific volumes they are targeting for different labels. If the amount of “juice” they have exceeds the amount they need for their program, it’s sold in bulk to a middleman. The catch is: the middleman can’t disclose the origin of the juice to perspective buyers. When we find the opportunity to buy very high quality juice at reasonable prices, we mix them to create an affordable white wine we are proud to call Underdog.
Steve and Tamara Kalin